Western Growers Selects 13 Innovation Companies for First Harvest Automation Cohort
By Stephanie Metzinger
May 19, 2021 — Irvine and Salinas, CA
[Editor’s note: Many of these selected companies are associated with Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology (WCGIT) in Salinas.]
Teams with potential to rapidly accelerate agricultural automation have been selected by farming and tech giants to participate in first-ever Global Harvest Automation Initiative cohort
Western Growers has selected 13 innovators for the inaugural cohort of its Global Harvest Automation Initiative (GHAI), a groundbreaking project that aims to automate 50 percent of specialty crop harvest within 10 years by accelerating the commercialization of harvest automation innovations.
The companies chosen for the cohort all specialize in agricultural robotics, mechanization and automation and will receive exclusive resources to help them launch and scale. This includes 1) Mentoring (mentor support from leading ag and tech companies, including feedback on product offerings, strategy and go-to-market options); 2) Field Trials (facilitation of field trials with growers); and 3) Case Studies (success of field trials will be published as case studies which will be available to growers). Most importantly, the cohort will receive systems integration to integrate industry-standard components (called technology stack) into their product roadmap so their robots can get into fields and markets faster.
“Most harvest startups build the entire technology stack themselves — from imaging and artificial intelligence to robotic end-effectors and automated movement up and down the fields. Western Growers’ Global Harvest Automation Initiative will now build this technology stack for them,” said Walt Duflock, vice president of innovation at Western Growers. “The innovators in this cohort are both startups and established companies that will get help integrating with industry-standard tractors, robot arms and sensors, which can commoditize up to 60–80% of the startup’s technology stack.”
The following are the innovation companies selected to receive hands-on support for all aspects of their businesses for rapid scaling:
• Advanced Farm Technologies: provides advanced farming tools, such as automated strawberry harvesting robots, for harvesting services • Antobot: builds a team of small intelligent agriculture robots with advanced computer vision and robotics technology • Augean Robotics: helps solve the labor problem facing farmers by making autonomous collaborative robots • Earth Rover: makes field robots that automate scouting, harvesting and weeding, and provides farmers with per-plant data from seed to gate • FarmWise: designs driverless tractors that use machine learning and computer vision, rather than herbicides, to eradicate weeds from farmers' fields • FFRobotics: develops a reliable, robust harvesting platform emulating human-hand picking process for efficient, cost-effective and bruise-free fruit harvesting • Muddy Machines: builds a new generation of field robots that help growers manage labor-intensive crops by conducting fieldwork • Oxbo International Corporation: designs, manufactures and distributes innovative harvesting equipment and related products • Ramsay Highlander: manufactures specialized harvesting aids for the vegetable growing industry • Ripe Robotics: builds and manages fruit-picking robots • Robotics Plus: enables sustainable growth of the horticultural and fiber industries through robotics and automation • SPUDNIK Equipment Company LLC: manufactures potato harvesting and handling equipment • Strio AI: automates labor-intensive tasks for specialty growers, starting with runner cutting for strawberries
Each innovator was selected based on market traction and potential for successful scale as well as feedback from Western Grower members and industry groups, including the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.
GHAI Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), a group with expertise in precision ag, robotics, artificial intelligence, equipment manufacturing, harvest automation and grower/shipper operations, will work with the cohort on priorities that can accelerate their development efforts.
The SMEs are as follows:
• Trimble: Mike Dentinger (Phase 1 Project Management) plus four Trimble SME’s • Bosch in North America: Andreas Fuchs, Fabian Henrici • Oxbo International Corporation: Kathryn Van Weerdhuizen, Scott Korthuis (retired), Chris Schloesser (retired) • Spudnik Equipment Company LLC: David Offerdahl, Evan Steel • Ramsay Highlander: Frank Maconachy, Greg Weisenfeld • Driscoll’s (formerly): Michael Christensen • NWFM LLC: Keith Veselka • Red Rooster Consulting: Scott Jacky • ProMach: Don Wickstrum • Milano Technical Group: Dominic Milano, Soummya Datta • All-Phase Co: Ken Hite • Grimmway Farms: Jeff Morrison • Turlock Fruit Company: Neill Callis • Church Brothers Farms: Josh Ruiz • Illume Agriculture: Kevin Andrew • Superfresh Growers: Mike Van Pelt
Resources and detailed information about the GHAI can be found on the WG Center for Innovation & Technology webpage here.
About Western Growers:
Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. Our members and their workers provide over half of the nation’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, including nearly half of America’s fresh organic produce. Some members also farm throughout the U.S. and in other countries so people have year-round access to nutritious food. For generations, we have provided variety and healthy choices to consumers. Connect and learn more about Western Growers on our Twitter and Facebook.